I'm taking a fantastic grad course at the University of Dallas with the theologian Dr. Bruce Marshall. It's a text seminar examining passages from the Summa theologiae. Last Monday I was fascinated to learn that Saint Thomas Aquinas had articulated a doctrine of implicit baptism of desire.
As stated above (1, ad 2; 68, 2) man receives the forgiveness of sins before Baptism in so far as he has Baptism of desire, explicitly or implicitly [there are the key words]; and yet when he actually receives Baptism, he receives a fuller remission, as to the remission of the entire punishment. So also before Baptism Cornelius and others like him receive grace and virtues through their faith in Christ and their desire for Baptism, implicit or explicit: but afterwards when baptized, they receive a yet greater fullness of grace and virtues. Hence in Psalm 22:2, "He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment," a gloss says: "He has brought us up by an increase of virtue and good deeds in Baptism. Yet catechumens who die without baptism can be saved but only as through fire. That is, they are absolved of eternal punishment, not temporal punishment."The perplexing thing is that Saint Thomas Aquinas believes that baptism by desire only remits eternal punishment and not the temporal punishment due to sins. In other words, the believer without sacramental baptism would still endure the "salvation through fire" of 1 Corinthians 3:15, i.e. purgatory. We find more information about this in Summa theologiae III 68 a. 2 ad 2:
STh III, q. 69, a. 4.
No man obtains eternal life unless he be free from all guilt and debt of punishment. Now this plenary absolution is given when a man receives Baptism, or suffers martyrdom: for which reason is it stated that martyrdom "contains all the sacramental virtue of Baptism," i.e. as to the full deliverance from guilt and punishment. Suppose, therefore, a catechumen to have the desire for Baptism (else he could not be said to die in his good works, which cannot be without "faith that worketh by charity"), such a one, were he to die, would not forthwith come to eternal life, but would suffer punishment for his past sins, "but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire" as is stated 1 Corinthians 3:15.Saint Thomas Aquinas further describes the distinction between in explicit and implicit faith in his Treatise on Faith found in II-II:
If, however, some were saved without receiving any revelation, they were not saved without faith in a Mediator, for, though they did not believe in Him explicitly, they did, nevertheless, have implicit faith through believing in Divine providence, since they believed that God would deliver mankind in whatever way was pleasing to Him, and according to the revelation of the Spirit to those who knew the truth, as stated in Job 35:11: "Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth."I probably shouldn't be amazed, but I'm rather shocked that Saint Thomas Aquinas had explored these regions of soteriology. Especially in the last quote (from II-II), one can see that this sort of reasoning is the basis of Vatican II's Lumen Gentium 16 which reads:
STh II-II q. 2 a. 7 ad 3 - emphasis mine.
Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives to all men life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:25-28), and since the Savior wills all men to be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4). Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience--those too many achieve eternal salvation.Special thanks to Dr. Bruce Marshall at SMU for bringing this to our attention.